Patience needed despite vaccine news: local expert

A local expert in microbiology has welcomed this week's news of progress on a Coronavirus vaccine - describing it as "very encouraging" - but he warned that people will need to be patient as a return to normal life is still many months away.

Tullamore man Dr Andy Fogarty, who works in Athlone IT, also said he had concerns about whether or not people would take the vaccine, pointing out that 70% of the population would need to take it to achieve 'herd immunity' and eradicate the disease.

Tullamore resident Dr Andy Fogarty.

"People have let their guard down on vaccines. Measles, Mumps and Rubella used to be major killers. Polio used to be a major killer," he said.

"I think we need a re-education regarding vaccines. People need only to look back at the 'iron lung' situations we had in hospitals in Ireland in the '40s and '50s (to see the difference vaccines have made)."

On Monday, pharmaceutical firm Moderna said interim data from clinical trials indicated its vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing Covid-19.

This followed on from similarly positive indications around a Pfizer vaccine, announced a week earlier, and Dr Fogarty said he was hopeful a third vaccine, being developed by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca, would also be shown to be effective in the coming weeks.

"By the end of the year, I reckon you're definitely going to have three vaccines," he predicted, adding that several more were currently undergoing phase three clinical trials.

Dr Fogarty said the updates on the vaccine were "very encouraging" but he also sounded a note of caution.

"This is very good news, but it's not the full panacea. My big issue is that people might say 'this is it, we can let our guard down'. And then we would end up in big trouble.

"On the anti-viral side, we're getting better at treating the condition, and the vaccine will hopefully stop people from getting it and transferring it, so we're in a much better place than we were back in March.

"I think we just have to be patient and 'grind out' the next five to six months."

Dr Fogarty is Programme Coordinator, BSc (Hons) in Microbiology at Athlone IT. He said the speed at which these vaccines were being developed was a result of the huge amounts of resources devoted to them.

"The quickest we got from a disease to a vaccine before this is the Mumps - and that was four years. But there's huge money and resources being put into this, so we're just expediting what happened in the '60s with the Mumps vaccine.

"Personally, I'm not surprised. Back in March I would have predicted that we would have vaccines by next Spring, but the vaccine is only half the story. The other half of the story is how long it will confer immunity.

He said there would be a number of challenges around the roll-out of the vaccine to the general population, not least the question of whether people would agree to take it.

"I would love to be optimistic and say that people are going to take it, but I think that is going to be a major challenge," he said.

"The optimist in me says yes, the realist in me says we need 70% (of people) to take it in order to eradicate the virus. That's why the World Health Organisation said this is only part of the process of getting back to normal.

Discussing an approximate timeframe for a return to normal life, Dr Fogarty said: "By next summer, if we have all of the frontline staff and the vulnerable people vaccinated we will still be living with the virus, albeit with no shutdowns and with, hopefully, the economy fully open.

"We will still be socially distancing and washing our hands, because we need to get (the vaccine) to everybody and there is going to be prioritisation."

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